Berenjak: Pretty perfect Persian

The word Persian always conjures up for me images of a distant and romantic empire, both exotic and foreign. Some 20 years ago, these latter two adjectives might have been applied to London’s Soho district, but in a less than laudatory context. Somehow though, it seems appropriate that Berenjak – a newish Persian restaurant - locates itself in Soho. Dig a little deeper though and Berenjak’s backers are the JKS Group, who have achieved notable success across the London culinary scene with the likes of Gymkhana, Bao, Hoppers and Xu. In other words, there is a shrewdness behind the whole Berenjak concept, from the siting of the venue through to the vibe and the food. Diners are told to expect ‘home-style’ cooking combined with a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ kebab experience; something for everyone, especially in Soho. While the mains at Berenjak are indeed centred around the grilling of meat, what you get here is about as far removed from a drunken post-pub snack as possible. Consider the interior. Sure, there is the obligatory open kitchen (replete with grills) and counter-top dining, but what is far more memorable are the distressed walls, Persian rugs and black & white photos of modern-day Iran covering the walls. Onto the food, and diners are encouraged to share a range of starters followed by a main each. The quality of the bread is one gauge I often use to judge restaurants (irrespective of style of cuisine) and Berenjak came up trumps here, with both a taftoon (sourdough) and sangak (flatbread) to accompany our chosen dips. The smell and the seed-enhanced texture were both distinctly memorable. A hummus dish could not have been more different to many mainstream offerings available elsewhere. Black chick peas and sumac not only changed the colour, but also improved the depth of the dish, lending a real earthiness to it. A whey-topped aubergine dish (pictured) was also superb, with the slow-cooking of this vegetable lending an almost caramel-like impression to the dish. Both our lamb shoulder and chilli-infused chicken grilled options impressed too, particularly in terms of the tenderness of the meat. Formal the venue is not and so don’t expect to linger here for long. But this is not the point: enjoy the vibe, try something new and don’t end up overpaying. Our meal came in at ~£40/head, with beers and service included.